Mill St. Barley Wine

Me, outside of Mill St.'s new location in Ottawa, ON

Me, outside of Mill St.’s new location in Ottawa, ON. Photo by Carla Jack

Ask, and ye shall find the beer ye be looking for! Or something like that… Yes, less than a day after I formulated my list of winter seasonal reviews, which came complete with the final three beers I wanted to try, I found the first amongst those final few. Yes, MIll St. Barley Wine now sits on my shelf, and the custom ceramic bottle is slowly emptying…

For some time, I’ve been generally lauding Mill St. for its creative endeavors. Their Tank House Pale Ale is one of the best I’ve ever had, and with few exceptions, their lineup is pretty impressive. And when it comes to barley wine, they release an annual batch that is contained in a ceramic, half-liter container and is very strong. This year’s comes in a black container and weighs in at a hefty 11.5 % alc/vol.

Appearance: Dark amber, touch of cloudiness, good foam and carbonation
Nose: Strong, syrupy malts, notes of citrus
Taste: Immediate touch of brown sugar giving way to coarse malts and slight bitterness
Aftertaste: Lingering coarse malt flavor, alcohol and slight hoppiness
Overall: 8/10

barley_wine2All in all, this beer was quite strong and I fear, somewhat overpowering. This is not so much a factor in alcohol content as taste, where the powerful, extra strong malt character leads to a coarse quality which pushes just about everything else to the side. The trace hops and sweetness are quite appealing, but they tend to get overshadowed, which is too bad. Still, this was a highly pleasurable beer and definitely a worthy addition to my winter lineup. And even though a single bottle can run you in excess of 20 dollars, I consider it a worthy investment.

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Of the Rise in Craft Brewing

A long time ago, I did an article for this site addressing what I saw as a criminal trend in the brewing industry. Not just any crime mind you, but a crime against nature itself, as far as I was concerned! I was referring to the expansion of major brand names and how it seemed to be leading to an overall dip in quality.

To illustrate, I referred to how some of my favorite craft brewers from over the years had been altering their recipes, mainly so they could achieve mass appeal and expand their sales. Others, also personal favorites of mine, had closed down instead, unable to compete in a mass market dominated by major names and low standards. Not a happy article. But if I’ve realized anything in the past two years, it is that this trend has swung sharply in the other direction.

Yes, craft brewing is becoming more and more popular, and may I say that it’s about bloody time! Whether its an upsurge in the number of micro-breweries or the adoption of a craft beer line by major breweries, the trend seems consistent. Granted this is all based on my own anecdotal experience, but when you notice it happening everywhere, you have to assume you’re onto something!

First, as I said, is the expansion in craft brewing. Of all the micro breweries that I’ve discovered since moving to BC, few seem to have opened their doors before the year 2000. For those that did, you’d be hard pressed to find one that’s been in operation since before the late 90’s. This is true of the Driftwood Brewery, the Cannery Brewery, Moon Under Water, Phillips, Old Yale, Hoyne, Dead Frog, Surgenor, Longwood, Swan’s, Spinnakers, and a host of others that I’ve sampled over the years. Back in Ontario, this is similarly true. It was only in the late 90’s and early millennium that the spectacular operations of McAuslan’s, Creemore, Scotch-Irish, Mill St., Heritage, Cameron’s, Muskoka, and a slew of others were established. And their ongoing success is a testament to fact that the popularity of craft brewing is on the rise.

As for the adoption of special, small-batch product lines adopted by larger operations, I am satisfied to say that this trend seems to be catching on, particularly with breweries that I noticed were watering down the wares. In recent years, the Vancouver Island Brewery, Granville Island Brewery, the Lighthouse Brewery have all began releasing signature or limited release beers that are not part of their regular lineups, and take advantage of the small batch production methods that ensure better quality.

This is also true of such giants as Keith’s, which has expanded its lineup by incorporating a white, an amber and a dark ale. This began in recent years, and represents a complete 180 from what they’ve been doing for the generations now – producing a single, watery ale that bears no resemblance to a real IPA. And Sleeman’s, a major operation in its own right, has even expanded its repertoire by introducing an IPA and a Porter to their lineup.

Granted, brewery ownership is still concentrated in the hands of a few major multinationals, and the vast majority of beer consumed today consists of mass produced, flat and flavorless numbers. Still, the trend towards authenticity and flavor seems to be clear. Consumers are demanding beer that is made locally, in small batches, and in accordance with traditional standards. And for beer snobs, who insist on authenticity over accessibility, this can only be seen as great news. Great news indeed!

So when you’re out next weekend, find yourself a local microbrew, a brewpub, and drink up! And be sure to tip your barmaid. Cheers!